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Gordon v. Combs

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 25, 2017

CARL D. GORDON, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN COMBS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Norman K. Moon United States District Judge.

         Carl D. Gordon, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a verified complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 naming staff of Wallens Ridge State Prison (“Wallens Ridge”) as defendants in both individual and official capacities. Gordon contends that defendants violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq., by not allowing him to participate in the Fast of Ramadan (“Ramadan”) in 2014. Gordon seeks declaratory relief, damages, “[p]lus any other relief the Court deems just, proper, and adequate.” Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Gordon responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[1] Having considered the record, I conclude that defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted in part and denied in part, and I will refer the case for mediation.

         I.

         Gordon is an adherent of the religion The Nation of Islam (“NOI”). He avers he has observed Ramadan for thirty years as part of his NOI practice. The Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) allowed Muslim inmates to observe Ramadan in 2014 between June 28 and July 27. Gordon explains that his religious beliefs allow him to make up a missed Ramadan fast at any time.

         Defendant Gilbert, who was Gordon's Counselor, gave Gordon a Ramadan sign-up form on May 12, 2014. Gordon signed the form the same day, indicating he wanted to participate. Per policy, he deposited it in the institutional mail for delivery to the Treatment Department before the June 3 deadline. He attached a request form with the participation form, asking for confirmation that his name was added to the participation list. Gordon never received the request form back.[2]

         Approximately a week later, Gilbert handed Gordon a second sign-up form upon Gordon's request. Gordon signed it and handed it back to Gilbert.

         On approximately June 15, Gilbert told Gordon that Gordon's name was on the official participation list because Gordon's name was on Gilbert's unofficial list. Gilbert explained that he created his unofficial list from the official participation list prepared by the Treatment Department.

         On approximately June 16, Gordon heard Gilbert tell another inmate that the other inmate was not on Gilbert's participation list. The inmate objected, explaining how he had sent his signup form to the Treatment Department before the deadline. Two days later, Gilbert informed the inmate that the inmate's name was added to the participation list.

         On June 18, Gilbert told Gordon that his name should be on the participation list because his name was on Gilbert's unofficial list, which Gilbert believed was the same as the official list. To confirm Gilbert's answer, Gordon inquired with the Food Service Department whether his name was on the official list. Defendant Broyles, who was the Food Service Manager, did not bother to check the official list and simply told Gordon to talk to Gilbert.

         Three days before Ramadan started, staff placed signs on the doors of inmates whose names were on the official list. Because Gordon's door was not marked, Gordon objected and sent request forms to the Chaplain, the Institutional Programs Manager, a major, and defendants Gilbert, Unit Manager Dennis Collins, Warden Gregory Holloway, Assistant Warden John Combs, and Treatment Department Secretary Hyder.

         On June 25, Collins responded to the request form. Collins said he would inquire with the Food Service Department whether Gordon was on the participation list and would have Gordon added if Gilbert confirmed that Gordon should be on the list. Combs similarly responded, “Please inform your Unit Manager[, ] [Collins]. I will talk to Gilbert.” Gordon sent Collins a request form that night as a reminder to check with the Food Service Department.

         On June 26, Combs told Gordon that Combs would speak with Gilbert at the earliest opportunity. Later that day, a major and defendant Captain Cope spoke with Gordon. The major instructed Cope to tell the Food Service Department to add Gordon to the participation list if Gilbert believes Gordon is supposed to be on it. Collins told Gordon, “Gilbert said [your] name had been on Treatment's [Ramadan] list but Food Service said it's not on theirs.” Collins left Gordon's door abruptly and without further discussion.

         Gilbert talked to Gordon twice on June 27. In the morning, Gilbert said he had been certain on June 15 or 16 that Gordon was on the participation list and would check on fixing Gordon's omission from the list. In the evening, Gilbert said that Gordon had not been mentioned during Gilbert's separate meetings with Comb, Collins, and Cope earlier that day and the day before.

         On June 27, a sergeant told Gordon that Collins had emailed staff to put Ramadan participation signs on three inmates' doors, but Gordon was not mentioned.

         On June 29, Gordon began sending request forms to the Food Service Department to learn about the inmates who had been accidentally left off the participation list in 2014 but were added later. Gordon also inquired why, unlike those inmates, he had not yet been added to the participation list. Broyles refused to give Gordon any information and denied his requests.

         On July 2, Cope told Gordon at his cell door that he would talk to Gilbert about Gordon's participation. Cope refused Gordon's requests that Cope immediately resolve the situation by speaking with ...


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